The Staffordshire Hoard
Official Staffordshire Hoard website (recently updated)
The Staffordshire Hoard is the largest hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver metalwork yet found. Discovered in a field near the village of Hammerwich, near Lichfield, in Staffordshire, England on 5 July 2009, it consists of more than 1,500 items that are nearly all martial in character. The artefacts have tentatively been dated to the 7th or 8th centuries, placing the origin of the items in the time of the Kingdom of Mercia.
Experts have theorised about the purpose of the deposit, and whether those who made it were Christians or pagans. The average quality of the workmanship is extremely high, and especially remarkable in view of the large number of individual objects, such as swords or helmets, from which the elements in the hoard came.
The hoard was valued at �3.285 million, and has now been purchased by the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery and the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery.
On 5 July 2009, metal detectorist Terry Herbert was exploring an area of farmland near Lichfield in Staffordshire with the permission of the landowner, Fred Johnson. Herbert uncovered what would become known as the Staffordshire Hoard. Over the course of the next five days, enough gold objects were recovered from the plough soil to fill 244 bags. At this point Herbert contacted Duncan Slarke, the Finds Liaison Officer for the Staffordshire and West Midlands Portable Antiquities Scheme. The landowner granted permission for an excavation to search for the rest of the hoard. This work was funded by English Heritage who contracted Birmingham Archaeology to do the fieldwork. The artefacts had been scattered by recent ploughing, and an area 9 by 13 metres (30 by 43 ft) was excavated in the search.
A geophysical survey of the field in which the hoard was found discovered what could be a ditch close to the find. Although excavations revealed no dating evidence for the feature, further investigation is planned. In total, 1,662 objects were recovered. A final geophysical survey using specialist equipment provided by the Home Office did not suggest any further artefacts remained, so it is thought all of the hoard has been found. Because of the importance of the find, the exact site of the hoard was initially kept secret.
On 24 September 2009, Andrew Haigh, the coroner for South Staffordshire declared the hoard to be treasure, meaning it belongs to the Crown. On the same day, the discovery was publicly announced. It caused a media sensation, attracting worldwide attention. The website about the Staffordshire Hoard that had been set up to showcase the finds received over 10 millions views in the first week after the announcement. At this point, the full contents of the hoard was uncertain as 56 blocks of soil were yet to be taken apart by Birmingham Archaeology. Despite this, some of the finds were put on display at the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, attracting 40,000 people and causing queues several hours long to see the objects.
The objects were on display at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery from the date when their discovery was publicly announced until 13 October 2009. A further selection of pieces from the Hoard also went on display at the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent. Key items and numerous smaller pieces were then taken to the British Museum, London, where cataloguing, and some initial cleaning and conservation work commenced. As of 24 September 2009, 1,381 objects had been recovered, of which 864 have a mass of less than 3 grams (0.096 ozt), 507 less than 1 gram (0.032 ozt), leaving just 10 larger items. X-rays of unexamined lumps of earth suggest that there are more to be revealed. Early analysis established that the hoard was not associated with a burial.
In late March 2010, a team of archaeologists carried out a follow-up excavation on the site, digging 100 metres (110 yd) of trenches and pits in the field. According to Staffordshire county archaeologist, Stephen Dean, there is no more gold or treasure to recover from the site, and the aim of the new excavation is to look for dating and environmental evidence. Archaeologists hope to be able to use this evidence to determine what the landscape looked like at the time that the hoard was deposited.
The hoard consists of more than 1,500 items, comprising up to 5 kg (11 lb) of gold and 1.3 kg (2.9 lb) of silver, and is the largest treasure of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver objects discovered to date, eclipsing, at least in quantity, the 1.5 kg (3.3 lb) hoard found in the Sutton Hoo ship burial in 1939.
Most of the items in the hoard appear to be military-related, and there are no domestic objects, such as vessels or eating utensils, or feminine jewellery, which are the more common Anglo-Saxon gold finds. Reportedly, the contents "show every sign of being carefully selected". There is broad agreement that the typical object in the hoard was made in the 7th century, but the date when a hoard was actually deposited is some point after that of the latest object found. Debate has already begun as to the date of some objects, and the process of forming views as to which objects are the latest, and their dates will no doubt take many years or decades.
A summary of the preliminary contents of the hoard, as of late 2009, is shown in the table below. This excludes items such as the gold horse's head that were in one of the 33 soil blocks that had not been examined at the time of publication of these figures.
The contents include many finely worked silver and gold sword decorations removed from weaponry, including 66 gold sword hilt collars and many gold hilt plates, some with inlays of cloisonn� garnet in zoomorphic designs (see lead picture). The 86 sword pommels found, constitute the largest ever discovery of pommels in a single context, with many different types (some previously unknown) supporting the idea that the pommels were manufactured over a wide range of time.
The Staffordshire Hoard official press statement notes that the only items in the hoard that are obviously non-martial are two (or possibly three) crosses. The largest of the three crosses is missing some decorative settings (yet some are present but detached) but otherwise remains intact, and it may have been an altar or processional cross. Yet the cross is folded; either prior to burial "to make it fit into a small space" or as a sign that the burial deposit was made by pagans. On the other hand, the statement notes, "Christians were also quite capable of despoiling each other's shrines."
One of the most intriguing items in the hoard is a small strip of gold inscribed on both sides with a quotation[note 1] from the Old Testament in Latin: SURGE DNE DISEPENTUR INIMICI TUI ET FUGENT QUI ODERUNT TE A FACIE TUA ("Surge Domine et dissipentur inimici tui et fugiant qui oderunt te a facie tua"), which translates as: "Rise up, Lord; may Your enemies be scattered and those who hate You be driven from Your face."
Michelle Brown, Professor of Medieval Manuscripts Studies in London, believes that, based on the use of uncial letter forms, the style of lettering used implies a date of 7th or early 8th century, whereas Professor Elisabeth Okasha of University College Cork, an expert on early medieval inscriptions, has identified traits in the insular majuscule script that are similar to later inscriptions datable to the 8th or early 9th century.
The gold strip may have been originally fastened to a shield or a sword belt, but Nicholas Brooks, Emeritus Professor of Medieval History at Birmingham University, interprets the gold strip as an arm of a cross: a round cabochon jewel would have been fitted to the terminal end, and the other end would have fitted into the central fitting of the cross. He suggests that the majuscule script used on the gold strip would have been in widespread use from 635 onwards, and so the gold strip could date to the mid 7th century, contemporaneous with the gold and garnet pommels and other sword jewels in the hoard.
Michael Lewis, the deputy head of the Portable Antiquities Scheme at the British Museum, notes that there are two possible reasons behind the burial of the hoard: either it was a votive deposit (an offering to the gods) or "a treasure chest that got lost, or they couldn't come back for it." Lewis comments that "from my 21st-century perspective, I find it bewildering that someone could shove so much metalwork into the ground as an offering. That seems like overkill."
Kevin Leahy, National Finds Adviser of the Portable Antiquities Scheme, says that the quantity of gold is extremely impressive and that, "more importantly, the craftsmanship is consummate, this was the very best that the Anglo-Saxon metalworkers could do, and they were very good." Leahy says that the finds must originate from the highest possible levels of the Saxon elite. Leahy comments that the find does not consist simply of loot, pointing out that swords were specifically singled out, that most of the gold and silver items appear to have been intentionally removed from the objects they were previously attached to, and that, if the depositer was just after the gold, fittings from sword belts would have been discovered. Leahy theorizes that the intention behind the removal of the gold fittings may have been to depersonalise the objects; removing the identity of the previous owners. The blades may have then been reused.
Leahy observes that the hoard appears to be a collection of trophies, yet that it is impossible to say whether the hoard consists of the spoils of a single battle or is the result of a long series of successful military engagements. Leahy says that the reason for the burial is unknown, and theorizes that the deposit "may have been tribute to Heathen gods or concealed in the face of a perceived, but all too real, threat, which led to it not being recovered." Leahy notes that further work will result in a better understanding of how the hoard came to be buried. Leahy points out that the find includes dozens of pommel caps—decorative attachments to sword handles—and that Beowulf contains a reference to warriors stripping the pommels of their enemies' swords.
Nicholas Brooks has suggested that the hoard may have belonged to the Mercian court armourer. He theorizes that under the system of heriot, the Mercian king would have received weapons and gold bullion from Anglo-Saxon nobles at their death, and that the Mercian court would have distributed these weapons to men who came into its service. Brooks takes the absence of strap-ends, strap attachments and buckles in the hoard to indicate that the weapons were broken down into their constituent parts, and that the different parts of the weapons were the responsibility of different offices: the court leather-worker would have been responsible for providing those entering Mercian service with adorned belts and harnesses, whereas the court armourer would only have been responsible for metal objects such as the hilt collars, hilt plates and pommel caps that make up the majority of pieces in the hoard.
The Staffordshire hoard is unusual as it contains no feminine objects and consisted mostly of martial items. The hoard has been described by Leslie Webster, former keeper of the department of prehistory at the British Museum, as "absolutely the metalwork equivalent of finding a new Lindisfarne Gospels or Book of Kells" and stated further that "this is going to alter our perceptions of Anglo-Saxon England as radically, if not more so, as the Sutton Hoo discoveries".
Dr Roger Bland, Head of the Portable Antiquities Scheme, said: "It is a fantastically important discovery. It is assumed that the items were buried by their owners at a time of danger with the intention of later coming back and recovering them."
Terry Herbert examining items from the Staffordshire Hoard at the British Museum in October 2009. The items have been laid out for valuation by the Treasure Valuation Committee.
On 25 November 2009 the hoard was valued by the Treasure Valuation Committee at �3.285 million, which, under the provisions of the 1996 Treasure Act, is the sum that must be paid as a reward to the finder and landowner, to be shared equally, by any museum that wishes to acquire the hoard.
After the hoard was valued, it was announced that the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery and the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery intended to jointly acquire the entire hoard, and a public appeal was launched to raise the �3.285 million needed to purchase the hoard. The Art Fund co-ordinated the appeal. If the sum had not been raised by 17 April 2010, the Hoard might have been sold on the open market and the unique collection permanently broken up.
However, on 23 March 2010 it was announced that the sum had been raised three weeks before the deadline, after a grant of �1.285 million from the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF) was added to the money already collected from individuals, councils, and other groups and associations. Although the purchase price has been achieved, the Art Fund appeal is still continuing, in order to raise a further �1.7 million to help fund the conservation, study and display of the hoard.
Terry Herbert, the finder of the hoard, and Fred Johnson, the farmer on whose land the hoard was found, each received a half share of the �3.285 million raised by the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery and the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery. A feud later ensued between the two men.
The hoard was first displayed at the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery (from 24 September 2009 until 13 October 2009), and subsequently part of the Hoard was put on display at the British Museum (from 3 November 2009 until 17 April 2010).
Eighty items from the hoard, including a gold horse's head that has not previously been exhibited, went on display at the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery in Stoke-on-Trent from 13 February 2010 until 7 March 2010.
Key items from the Hoard are on long-term temporary display at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery and at the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery. Approximately 80 Hoard objects are on display in Gallery 16 in Birmingham and a further 80 in Stoke-on-Trent.
The hoard will be put on permanent display at the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery and at the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, but there are plans to make some items from the hoard available on loan to historic Mercian sites, such as Tamworth Castle and Lichfield Cathedral, as part of the Mercian Trail.
Staffordshire Hoard website (recently updated)